Take a trip to Seville if you love Moorish history, food & architecture. In fact pack your bags and let all of Southern Spain surprise you. I picked the region of Andalucía to fill up much of my holiday this time, just because I was real curious. I had read & heard about the Moors, the Christian kingdoms, mixed architecture styles called Mudejar, besides the possibility of indulging my love for landscape photography (there are diverse nature reserves).
A little rummaging through history books showed that the land & its people were highly influenced by two powerful cultures that had made this region home. The Romans & the Muslim Arabs/North African Berbers who ruled over vast areas for almost 800 years (Seville for 500 yrs), crafted the narrative you see today.
CREATION OF THE MUDEJAR STYLE ~ 14th CENTURY MASTERPIECES
For me the Seville (Spanish: Sevilla) stories started from the arrival of the Arabs, as much of the urban surviving structures show us a glimpse of those times. The city truly flourished during the 100-year reign of the Almohads in the 13th century. In the 1300s Peter of Castile (Pedro 1 the Cruel / the Just, depending on who wrote history), took advantage of the damage created by an earthquake to rebuild one of Seville’s iconic sights, the Royal Palace (Alcazar) using a new merged design. Though it wasn’t the first, this set the trend for what came to be known as the Mudéjar style (name was given to this construction style only in the 1800s). It started appearing across Christian chapels, Jewish synagogues & royal palaces over the next few centuries.
(Mudejar architecture is marked by the use of lines, intersections, arches and calligraphy besides others. This is merged with symbols/mythology/art from traditional Christian expressions that are either embedded into the piece or around it)
Mudéjar Architecture ~ Fusion of Arab & Christian styles
Sevilla is where you can see a seamless blend of two very diverse cultures, bringing in their own distinctive impressions, born of both religious & artistic interpretations.
I have noticed during my trips to different lands, the changing expression of Islamic architecture. Be it the Dome of the Rock shrine (old city of Jerusalem) or then the Medieval jewel of Samarkand. Mudéjar (pronounced Mude-khar, with ‘kh’ said the Arab way) however signifies a synthesis in which Almohad decorative styles were incorporated into Gothic Christian Art. This style emerged during the slow & steady Christian revival in Muslim dominant regions. And continued well after Muslim craftsmen stopped working in the construction of Sevilla’s monuments, churches & palaces.
(Originally a minaret of the Great Mosque of Seville, the Giralda Tower became the tallest point in the city. The Christian Bell Tower has preserved much of its Islamic past with its 4 large sets of sebka motives or sculpted bricks)
Harmony in art & architecture mirrored reality for a while
The Mudéjar form dominantly used the Girih decorative style on mosaic, brickwork, wood & other surfaces. It was created with geometric lines interlacing to create a rhythm and express the unity of God. Despite the Christian rule Peter of Castile comfortably allowed in the Alcazar Palace, Arab inscriptions praising God & the monarchy. Polygons & latticework was used in many areas to fill architectural spaces. Mudéjar craftsmen also brought in nature’s symbols in this new blend of styles, borrowing freely from leaves, flowers, stems and even elements like the shell associated with fertility. Fused into this were the Romanesque, Gothic & Renaissance influences. It was a reflection of co-existence with peace, though quite short lived.
This merged expression was also said to be a way to get those of the Muslim faith, to accept the new Christian rule with little resistance. And win them over too. The ornate form of Islamic art was chosen to bring in the grandness that much of the Moorish palaces had. This was in comparison to the pure Gothic style used in churches, that was seen to be more religious in its aesthetics.
Today, this unusual confluence can still be seen in the iconic and beautiful Reales Alcázares de Sevilla (Royal Alcázar), Giralda Tower, Casa de Pilatos among others in Seville. Even more so in other places like Turuel, Toledo and the cities of Avila, Zaragoza & Cordoba. I’ve scribbled some into the wish list for my next trip. (More transition stories from the Alcazar Palace, Casa de Pilatos & Cathedral with Giralda Tower in later posts).
(Alcazar Palace: As a part of the Salon de los Embajadores (Ambassadors’ Hall), the wall & ceiling present some of the most significant elements of the Caliphate of Cordoba & Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. Each one of the 4 upper balconies is supported by 3 dragons made in wrought iron. And the cedarwood ceiling’s starred cupola is embedded with mirrors, done during its restoration in 1843 to make it more luminous)
(Alcazar Palace: One of many arches in the Courtyard of Maidens, it is a part of the rectangular shaped landscaped courtyard around which the palace social life revolved)
(Alcazar Palace: The opposite side of the Vault Room continues with the Renaissance style tiled skirting boards illustrated with naturalist & mythological patterns. A glimpse of the ceiling demonstrates King Alfonso X’s preference for Gothic style architecture)
(This wall is adjoining the garden at Casa de Pilatos & is a part of the palace created by the founders of the Enríquez de Ribera dynasty. Don Pedro Enríquez was the Governor of Andalucia in the 15th Century & he lavishly used the traditional geometric patterns in tiles that represent Mudéjar architecture, for his home)
NEO MUDEJAR MEETS RENAISSANCE IN PLAÇA DE ESPAÑA ~ 20TH CENTURY SURPRISE
I did time travel here, crossing centuries with designs & patterns that seemed exquisite even in nuevo times. Plaça de España was constructed in 1928 and that didn’t seem like a very long time ago. The Ibero-Spanish exhibition held in 1929 for which this spectacle was initiated, was also not about ancient Spain. But the plaza with its unmistakable style looked familiar and made me realize that a foreign culture that had left its footprint more than 600 years ago, was the region’s show stopper. The Mudéjar style with its Muslim-Christian blend had transcended time & in a modern avatar was just as embracing.
PLAZA BACKSTORY: The story goes that Seville wanted to host a cultural event as a way of attracting tourism, to build a relationship with the Americas and showcase Spain’s advancements. They picked Parque de María Luisa as the chosen space for the pavilion buildings, all of which in a semi circle faced the Guadalquivir River (the 2nd longest river in Spain also making Sevilla a port city in earlier times). Countries participating included those with territories that were formerly part of the Spanish Empire. So the unique aesthetic heritage of Spain that derives a lot from Muslim art was recreated.
(Once you enter the Plaça de España you can see the semi circle formation with the canals following the curve)
A Grande Spanish welcome for the colonies turned comrades
Plaça de España was Spain’s exclusive show at the time of the exhibition. Then & now it covers a vast stretch of land in the North West area of the park and has a porticoed gallery flanked by 2 towers 80 meters high in Baroque style. Along the border of this plaza is a canal with 4 Venetian style footbridges and balustrades adorned with ceramics from the Triana district (which is on the other side of the river). These 4 bridges, represent the kingdoms from Spain of yore namely, Castile, Aragon, Leon & Navarra.
Along the base of the semi circle there are 48 alcoves decorated with tiles illustrating an episode from the history of a Spanish province. The combination of woodwork, bricks and ceramics (azulejos) were used to create shapes and patterns inspired from Art Deco, Renaissance & Neo Mujédar styles. I think architect Aníbal González who made it look so harmonious & beautiful, had fun with all elements within arms reach. Perhaps this was his motto: Just blend them all to create a new age memory
Below is a play of ceramics and patterns in the alcoves & balustrades. Each alcove tells a story.
Yes it is a 20th century creation all you history buffs, but just as vibrant and is considered the revival of architecture traditions that Spain continues to be very proud of. So do not miss it.
Today Government offices occupy the higher floors, so once inside the building you can walk around only in the 1st floor corridor. The open area of the plaza is accessible of course to all. Little boats take you on short canal rides. And gypsies sell their wares as do musicians who can be seen busking & drawing attention in colorful ways.
(Busking in traditional Red Indian wear. Nothing ethnic about this guy’s music though. It was all pop when I caught his show)
Photographers: Great idea to get in before 8.45 AM. Hardly any one there at that early hour, so you can make pictures your way
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun from 8.00 AM – 10.00 PM Entry: Free
THIS WAS JUST THE BEGINNING
For me the first glimpse of the Mudéjar style was the Giralda Tower, as I was staying very close to the Cathedral. But I’d decided to start from the most recent of them all. Plaça de España. And then traveled all the way back till I finally saw the source of all inspiration for the Christian kings. The Alhambra Palace in Granada
Well they are all seamlessly linked even in the 21st century. Culturally, in their cuisine and especially so in their language which even today uses Arabic words & pronunciations in a modern avatar. Visiting Seville, Cordoba and Granada made me experience the magic of harmony in many ways. And I thought to myself, why just in the architecture! Life would love that too.